Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Non-Journey from Hell with Virgin America

Contrary to speculation, I did not miss my flight from New York to Los Angeles because I was in the bar. 

Just to fill everyone in: I was six hours early for a Virgin America flight (I had an appointment at the airport), had lunch in the bar and, making sure I left it at least 90 minutes before take-off (I'd paid $50 - wasn't going to waste that!), sat patiently in the American Airlines lounge, working (Virgin America does not have a lounge at Newark International).
As I was also dealing with some issues relating to family illness in the UK and sending texts and e-mails, I didn’t notice the time (the American Airlines lounge boards list only their flights) and had to run for the gate, where I was informed it was closed. I was there with 23 minutes to spare, but it was very much a case of computer says no. My bag was on the plane and travelled without me.
The woman at the desk offered me absurdly expensive flights to places nowhere near LA; the alternative was returning in the morning and going on stand-by. She kept telling me that she had a family and just wanted to get home to her kids. I phoned my friend Chrissy to speak with her as I was finding it impossible to talk through my tears. She told Chrissy, too, that she wanted to get home to her kids.

Ah, right. So was that the reason the gate was closed early? Whatever happened to passenger care? A comforting word, a hint of understanding? I was told she had tried to call me. Yes, on a number I haven’t had for five years, and my Virgin America account very clearly states the one I have had since then. And, to cover all bases because the flight had been booked through a third party, I phoned them that very morning to give them all my information.
Apart from the appalling customer service, the security issue really worries me. I have sat on many a plane waiting for passengers and, if they do not turn up, we have to wait while their luggage is taken out of the hold. When I questioned why my bag had been allowed to fly without me, I was told that it and I had both cleared security. 

Yes - but now they were sending me out of the airport. 

Apart from the fact that not every bag in the hold is thoroughly checked, it raises the question of how easy it is to get your bag on without you - just check it in and turn up to the gate late. That’s a massive, gaping flaw in security, and deeply disturbing.
So, I had to to toddle off to the Marriott and spend $300 dollars I could ill afford to try for the morning flight (fabulous staff at Newark International, by the way; I love Marriotts). I rang Virgin America later and was informed that they could give me a seat on the morning flight, after all. They assigned me the number - 3D - and I was ecstatic. 

When I arrived in the morning, however, I was told that no seat had been assigned and I was on standby. Again, the like of comforting customer care was negligible. More tears. Finally, with only one available seat, I made it, the last person to board. I was stressed. Exhausted. Yes, I know I was late at the gate and I take responsibility for that. 

But closing the gate early and somebody being so damned unhelpful because she has a family waiting for their tea, is just shoddy and unprofessional. 
I fly with Virgin Atlantic all the time and had used the points I have accumulated there to fly with Virgin America - a Virgin Atlantic partner, but a different airline altogether. Virgin Atlantic had already messed up, for three days telling me that I would be able to upgrade with more points if a seat became available, and then informing me the day before that no, 72 hours’ notice was required. So why had they kept telling me to call back at regular intervals and also told me that I could ask at the airport and points could be added with one phone call to them? 
Virgin America were worse. Everyone I spoke to there didn’t even seem to know that Virgin Atlantic is a partner. 
I fly a lot and am a very trouble free passenger, but so much stress is caused by airline staff either not knowing basic information about their jobs, or simply not doing them. 

I could go on about Virgin America - and will. The absence of anyone to meet at greet because staff are chatting with the pilot; the non-checking of seat belts; the rubbish that is allowed to accumulate in the cabin over five hours (not even my kitchen trash bin ever has as debris as what I had to sit with at my feet); the demand that all blinds be closed (on a daytime flight, for goodness’ sake); the blinds being closed for take-off and landing (the most dangerous part of the flight, when light is needed); the seeming inability of any member of staff - ground or airborne - to smile. 

The airline is, quite simply, a shambles.
Reunited with my bag in LA, the same non-smiling faces and rude Virgin America staff were as nonchalant as those in New York. Next week, I have to do it all again (the journey, not the missing the plane bit) and am dreading it. 

The whole experience has cost me money, time, stress, and left a very sour taste in the mouth about a once terrific airline. 

East to West coast on a camel might well prove less traumatic. 

Anyone find me a ride from Camels R Us, by any chance?

P.S. I am now on my return journey and have encountered yet ANOTHER unsmiling, rude person at check-in at LAX. Same thing happened last time at LAX. This time, Monique was so busy slagging off the previous "guest" to her colleague, I had to ask for her attention three times. Then, after removing some weight from my luggage, she started to walk off saying she had finished (without having checked me in!). BIG sighs when I asked her to finish the check-in. Get your act together Virgin America!


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Love, Loss, and Gratitude

The cliche goes: “It’s always around Christmas.” 

Illness. Death. Heartbreak. But, the truth is, “it” is around us just as much every other day of the year; it’s just that at Christmas, it feels more poignant because it is a time when we are all supposed to be feeling jolly with the yo-ho-ho-ness of it all. 

The reality, in adulthood, is invariably different; it doesn’t mean that we are incapable of joy, but pleasure comes tempered with the knowledge of corresponding sadness.
I lost my father just after Christmas nearly 26 years ago. A close friend lost her father on Boxing Day a few years back. In December just gone, two friends lost their mothers. 
It is hard to think of anything new to say about the one thing that every living creature has in common. We are all born, and we will all die - there you go, another cliche, but no less poignant for its being so.
But it is in times of loss that we find comfort in cliches: they are a uniting force in a world that continues to separate us in so many ways. Cliches are the emotional levellers: the things that strip us to the core and reveal that, at their deepest level, our raw, primal instincts are the same: we want to love and we want to be loved, and the pain of either being taken away is, at best, painful; at worst, unbearable.
The manifestation of those two primal urges leads us into all sorts of difficult territory - desire, jealousy, insecurity, paranoia . . . I could go on - but when we lose love, it hauls us back to the heart of the matter: the very beating of existence, physically and emotionally, that defines our existence, independent of the social mores and other “stuff” we find ourselves heaping upon it to make life more difficult than it need be.
Because, as better people have said, in superior cliches from those I am managing, love is all. Corinthians 13 tells us everything that love should be, in its purest form, but it’s pretty unsustainable in the modern world. But, when the physical body of a loved relative or friend departs, one is left with that very spirit, the essence, of love - at least, if you have been lucky in the people with whom you have encountered it. 

We may delude ourselves in sugar-coating the less than savoury aspects; we may hide our grievances and guilt in shadows me might not wish to revisit for many years; we may lie to ourselves and others about life, death, and everything in between. But in that moment of departure and what it entails, we become as babies once more, especially when that death is one’s mother: the being who brought you into the world; the person who, literally, gave you life. You really are on your own now; the umbilical cord severed.
This wasn’t quite how I imagined wishing everyone a Happy New Year, but I’d like to change it slightly and wish you all a loving new year. 

For me, 2015 was a year of some great stuff, some less than good, to say the least; a time in which I learnt a lot and, I hope, shared knowledge I have been lucky to glean, with others. It was a year in which I was a joy and, I have to be honest, at times a right pain in the arse. A year in which my friends loved me for the former and forgave me for the latter - and in which I, too, loved and forgave them for both, too.
Because we’re human beings. That’s what we do. We mess up and we repair. None of us sets out to do a bad job, and the fact that we end up doing so at times doesn’t really matter; it’s how we put it right that counts. And the people who love us know that. 
And so, my sincere condolences to my friends who have lost people dear to them this year; and my thoughts go out to the many people who I know face a difficult year ahead with treatment for their various illnesses.
I am blessed having you all in my life, and thank you for your patience, kindness, acceptance of my eccentricities (even though, to me, I am the most normal person on the planet, obviously), and I send you all the love I have for the year ahead. 


Friday, January 1, 2016

Bloody Christmas!

Vampirism is not all it’s choked up to be. In fact, vampirism really sucks. 

Of all the resolutions I was planning for 2016, the vow never, ever to become a vampire had not made it to the list. 
It’s not something I’d ever fancied, really. Vampire movies terrified me as a child, and I have a bit of a phobia about people with bad teeth. So, two pointed, dripping red oral talons descending upon my neck in the middle of the night was never going to hold much appeal.
But over the festive period, I drank a lot of blood. And I mean a lot. I could have saved entire hospital wards with the profusion of platelets, clots and rivers of bloodiness pouring from my nose.
I remember only once having a nosebleed when I was about seven, and it didn’t last very long. So, 50 years later, it was pretty scary to suddenly find myself in Sainsbury’s in Paddington Station, dripping onto my discount mince pies and feeling helpless as terrified passengers all but ran screaming from the exorcism that appeared to be taking place before their eyes.
The staff were very nice and offered me a chair, but I was rushing for a train, as I had arranged to look after my mum in Bristol, where she was due to have an operation the following day. The nosebleed did not stop en route. In fact, it got so bad, they had to call for a doctor on board. He arrived quickly, courtesy of the lovely steward Dean Jones on First Great Western Railway. And gosh, was he a hot doctor - straight out of Central Casting. A gorgeous Scot called Douglas. In the brief moment when he managed to stop the bleeding, I managed a quick selfie with him. A wheelchair was waiting for me at Bristol Parkway and I made it to my mother’s house without flooding the taxi.
No sooner had I made it through her door than it started again. And I mean really started. When the NHS helpline gave up with advice about bags of frozen peas on my neck and pinching my nose, and there was a trail of blood through every room of my mother’s house, they told me to call an ambulance and get to a hospital asap.
The ambulance took two hours to arrive. It was four hours before I saw a doctor in the hospital. I could not fault the staff, who work unbelievable hours for very little money and in not very salubrious conditions. But the time it takes to get anything done is horrendous. It’s not the staff’s fault; they are stretched to the extreme, and I have nothing but admiration for anyone who would put up with these conditions - not to mention the difficult patients.
I happened to be a rather good one. I’ve never spent a night in hospital in my life, and I was happy to surrender to those who know better than I do in medical matters. I’d had the foresight to take my laptop in with me, as I had a ton load of work to do, and my only offence was to keep Googling my condition in the many spare hours I had, and checking with staff that they had tested me for every possible ailment ever recorded in the history of mankind. 
There are many causes for nosebleeds, and the overall consensus was that mine had been caused by high blood pressure due to extreme stress; I had literally burst a blood vessel. I won’t fill you in on the gory details of what had to be done to stop the flow, but it took 36 hours and involved bowls, nose blowing, inflated tubes up my nostrils, and no sleep as I couldn’t lie down (that last one was a blessing when the gorgeous Polish nurse came to take my blood pressure at midnight; I’d really hit the jackpot with hot male medics that week).
But back to the vampirism. Because your nose is connected to your throat (finally, I learnt what an Ear Nose and Throat specialist is for), you end up swallowing a lot of blood when you have a nose bleed. Then, because your stomach doesn’t like blood and is begging you to explain where the spaghetti Bolognese it usually enjoys has gone, it throws it back up. By the bucketload. The taste is vile. Metallic. It feels as if it’s filling every orifice in your head. The lettuce leaf you just about managed to consume at lunch (no hot foods or liquids for me) returns like a piece of seaweed caught in the tide of the Red Sea.
All of this was no good for my blood pressure, which was going up and up. So was my heart rate. I had two lots of blood tests and two ECGs. They said they were going to keep me in with the balloon up my nose for at least a couple of days. I started to worry that I hadn’t made a will. Meanwhile, my poor mum was on her way to a different hospital, and her poor little Bichon Frise was about to be abandoned for the day while I tried to arrange cover. The good news is, the operation went well, and I managed to cook for them both over Christmas. Alas, I couldn’t touch a thing. All I could see when I looked at the turkey was blood. I’m not a big meat eater anyway, but my foray into vampirism might well have turned me vegetarian for good.
And so begins the real hard task - trying to keep my blood pressure at safe levels so that I am not put on medication. There are plenty of things one can do to bring it down naturally - meditation, diet, exercise - but without removing the main source of stress, it’s not going to come down fast.
So, unless you are going to buy my Cardiff house, please don’t offer any advice. There is nothing I haven’t read on the subject. Heck, I’m almost a doctor now. 
And don’t send me any Get Well reading such as Bram Stoker, who wrote the Gothic novel, Dracula: “The blood is life . . . It shall be mine!” 

A bottle of red wine will do very nicely, though. 


Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hello, Goodbye - for Adele

What is it about Christmas songs on a loop that is so depressing? 

Every bar and restaurant you enter seems to have been sold a job lot of ditties that come under the single banner Festive Cheer to Make You Slit Your Wrists. 

I loathe that ting-a-ling bell thing they like to use on EastEnders when the fake snow falls and everyone decides to go into Albert Square wearing their summer clothes. I can’t bear Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody, because Mandy and Alison in secondary school used to bully me, and Slade was their favourite band (Lead singer Noddy Holder’s wife once asked me why I always wrote negative things about him; I told her the truth). 

I want to slit my wrists every time I hear John Lennon pounding out “War is over” because, quite frankly, John, love, it isn’t. Nice sentiment, but you were wrong.
I’m not a big fan of carols, either. Too many stables, too much straw, an excess of dodgy gifts (what’s a newborn going to do with myrrh, for goodness sake? Where’s the Peppa Pig of Bethlehem Macy’s when you need it?).
But I’m saving all of my wrath this year for Adele. Let me just say at the outset that I love her. She’s a great artist, a wonderful performer and a fantastic role model for young women. But this Christmas’s greatest hit, Hello? I have just one word to say about it: HELLO?!
As you can see, I have  a lot more to say about it. Here goes.
Hello, it’s me. Really? Why the effing hell are you calling me? Why would you think for one nanosecond I would want “to go over everything”? Here I was, just getting over my disastrous love life (and, to be honest, it’s taken a good few years), and here you go, out of the blue, wanting to resurrect the pain.
Well, thanks a bunch. I was just on my way to the butcher’s to order the turkey leg (which is the only limb I can afford) when you rang. I’m in Slough. You’re in California, I see, “dreaming about how we used to be”. Well, you made it to California, didn’t you? I’m a train ticket inspector living in possibly the worst town in the UK.

 I can’t even afford to pay my phone bill, so when you say “Can you hear me?” the answer is a definitive No. 

And did you really call a thousand times? If you’d bothered to ring the operator, they’d have told you that my phone’s been cut off. 

So you didn’t really try at all, did you? 

That’s because you’re doing your effing dreaming in your California hotel suite with your phone bill paid for by your management.
There’s such a difference between us? You’re telling me. Hello from the other side? Thanks for rubbing it in. Did I ever make it out of that town where nothing ever happened? 

Duh! No. 

If you’d bothered to Google me before phoning, you’d have discovered that I ended up in court for not paying my Council tax, did time for petty theft, and was rescued from the polar bear pit when I tried to kill myself at London zoo. 
You apologise for breaking my heart, which brings me to the most crucial question of all: you’re not calling to ask me back, are you? So why, why, why, have you decided to bring it all up again?
So, Goodbye. It’s me. 

No, I don’t want to meet to go over everything. It clearly doesn’t tear me apart anymore? No, it didn’t. Not until you wrote this effing song, and now I’m a mess again. 

Keep Googling me. The obituaries.

I'll be under the heading Goodbye From the Other Side.

Monday, November 30, 2015

I Wanted to Change my Password, Not my Life

When did changing the password on a TV cable account become so stressful? 

All I wanted was to make my information more secure, but now, as a result of the “security” questions, I am drowning in insecurity about the mistakes I might have made in life. 

So, thanks a bunch, Verizon, for making Misery Monday even worse than it usually is. 
Where did you and your spouse first meet, you ask me. Okay, I do not have a spouse. I have never had a spouse. I have never even come close to having one, let alone the several that people seem to acquire these days. That got me thinking. Am I really so unlovable that no one wanted to risk hitching themselves to me past Last Orders? 

My close friends understand me and, I think, most would say that I am kind, generous, great fun to be around and the most loyal friend they could wish for. The spouse bank clearly thought otherwise.
Part of me feels a little sad about that. As a writer, one wishes to experience as much as possible, even if only for a day. Maybe that’s about as much spouse as I could stand; who knows. I’m pretty sure I’ll never find out now. What does a spouse do? Put the trash out? Phone the insurance company when they refuse to pay out? Phone the police when your iPad’s been stolen (again)? Put an arm around you when you cry? Get the cork out of the wine bottle when the horrid new plasticky one just goes round and round and round and you risk cracking your veneers while trying desperately to pull it out with your teeth? 

Yes, I can see that a spouse might be very useful in certain situations. 
The next questions on Verizon’s list are pretty easy ones to answer compared to the spouse one. What was your favourite place to visit as a child? No doubt: Butlin’s. Free rides. Chalet accommodation. Late nights watching the batter going through the doughnut making machine, hot milk, my father’s huge white linen handkerchief wiping the sugar from my tired face. Safety.  
Next comes: What was the first live concert you attended? That, too, is an easy one. My best friend Shelley and I went to see Andre Previn conducting in Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall. We even got to meet him backstage afterwards. I have no idea how we managed to do that, but suspect that my celebrity hunting skills were already fully operational even at the age of 15.
Shelley and I also saw David Essex at the Capitol in Cardiff. I still have the photos, in which the star is a tiny dot about three miles from where we were sitting. I didn’t get to meet him on that occasion, but then I’d already been there, done that. He was starring in Godspell in the West End and, during the interval, Jesus invited people onto the stage for Last Supper wine (I think it was at this point I became a temporary Christian). Naturally, I was not only ahead of the queue, but crawled under the table to find the cork for David to sign. 
Verizon then asks: What is the first name of your best friend? That’s a really tough one. I have several people who I would call best friends. Shelley, who was my first and who is still close; Elizabeth, with whom I shared my early Fleet Street years; Rhys, whom I call my “life coach”; Mary and Liam, Liz and Ronw, Mike and Janie - my favourite couples and always my protectors and support in their dual capacities; Leisha, who makes me laugh and totally gets me; Sue, who became my friend on a cruise. I am blessed with so many wonderful friends, it is hard to single out a “best” one. They are people who are there for me, come rain or shine, and I for them. Is there any better definition of “best”? 
Now, Verizon, here’s the killer question that had me choking with laughter: What was your favourite restaurant in college? Seriously? I don’t know who pays American kids’ college fees, but the highlight of my university mastication was a can of Heinz beans and pork sausages on toast. I recall once having enough money to buy a can of Marks and Spencer creamed chicken, and I thought I was the luckiest student in the world.
But a restaurant? Even in the late Seventies, you could buy several books for what a meal for one would cost in the Armless Dragon (the first restaurant I went to long after I left university). Books would always be my food; they still are.
The next question is the easiest to answer: What was the first name of your first roommate? Billy No Mates. I’ve never had one. I’ve never shared a room with anyone. Nor an apartment. Nor a house. At university, I moved out of the student residence Aberdare Hall after one term (the residents were very irritating) and into a bedsit and have lived on my own ever since (I’m beginning to see the root cause of the spouse famine). 
Finally, Verizon asks: What is the name of a memorable place? Oh, come on. How many memorable places are there in the world? I think that what you technically mean, Verizon, is: What is a significantly memorable place for you? The way you have phrased it would result in an answer that is just plain silly because it would, in essence, mean that I would have to name every place in my memory. Cardiff, Paris, New York, Brighton, Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Baltimore, Scunthorpe (oh god, not Scunthorpe: a particularly horrible ex was from there. I had a lucky spouse escape there), Miami, Toronto . . . you see? They are all “memorable”, although I haven’t been to most of them.

And so, Verizon, thank you for helping me ponder my entire life’s journey and sending me into a spiral, wondering where it has all gone wrong. 

Next time, ask simpler questions, such as: How much is your current bill? Answer: $275.18. 

See? Easy? 

Now, I’m off to drown my sorrows in that restaurant I could never afford as a student. Given my current financial situation (no thanks to you), it might well be my last. 

Now that really will be memorable.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

To Paris, with Love

Yet again, another tragic loss of life that has left every civilised human being in the world reeling in shock. 

People just out to enjoy a Friday night in Paris with their friends or families - a concert, a sporting event, a bar. 

I lived in Paris for seven years and, while everyone I know is safe, many live and work close by the areas of attack. 
The truth is, it could be any one of us these days, because we just don’t know when or where these monsters are going to strike next. They have no morals, no heart, no soul. The fact that they carry out these atrocities in the name of religion makes them even more sickening. 
The arbitrariness of such callous killing is what has united the world in an extraordinary act of solidarity. I say extraordinary only because, so much of the time, we seem disunited: country against country, people against people. Maybe it takes a common enemy to make us see that there is a core of humanity that runs through our blood, irrespective of our origins or disparate beliefs.
The best word for it is empathy:  defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We feel it for the people of Paris and France today (as we did in January, following the attack on the capital city’s Charlie Hebdo offices) , just as others have done for the acts of carnage committed throughout all our histories - 9/11, the Boston Marathon, the IRA bombings, to name but three. 
Individually, most of us possess a conscience; a sociopath does not. It’s not something you can plant if it’s not here in the first place. Many killers have consciences - it’s what often makes them return to the scene of the crime and, in some cases, makes themselves want to get caught. Their guilt is alleviated (in their dreams).
There is also a collective conscience-ness: our care for our fellow beings, even though we live on the other side of the world. 
The killers who carried out the Paris attacks and who are being recruited at an alarming rate are conscience-less. To call them sociopaths sounds too soft; likewise, killers. Today, even murderous bastards sounds way too light. They are not only conscience-less, they are inhumane. They fly in the face of everything most of us are brought up to believe: the value of love, truth, honesty, loyalty.
The horror is that in their own minds, they possess those qualities; in reality, they have no idea as to their true meaning and have squandered the concepts on an altar that is nothing more than the misguided belief of pure rightness: a belief that is, in essence, the altar of nothingness.
Far from being powerful, these (in)humans are weak: mere sponges who collectively cannot think or feel for themselves; but, as someone pointed out to me on Facebook yesterday, there are still more of us than there are of them.
What is the answer? No one knows, as a member of the French Senate said today on CNN, when asked. She added, ironically: please, if you know what that solution is, tell us.
While governments try to address this world war (for that is undoubtedly what it is), one thing that the rest of us can do is be vigilant.
A few years back, in  Paris bar, a helmeted figure entered and pretended to hold the place up. I threw myself to the ground and went into protection mode, yelling to everyone to “Give him what he wants.” Everyone laughed when I realised I was the only person prostrate on the floor and it had all been a joke, as the man was a friend of the owner.
So, that’s another thing we can do - not be stupid. Don’t make jokes at airports, on planes, even in bars. You don’t know when it’s real, and while not everyone is a suspect, every venue is a potential target.
We will all go on living our lives, but for those who have lost theirs, or who, on Friday, lost their loved ones, nothing will ever be the same.
We will hug our families more closely, tell them to be careful, encourage them to phone if they are going to be late, ask them not to take risks, not to trust strangers.
The great sadness is that you can ask all that, adhere to it all, and it may not make a blind bit of difference when somebody can just walk into a concert hall with a Kalashnikov or don a suicide to vest to make themselves part of the carnage.
Maybe the best that we can do as individual citizens is to be there for each other when the horror strikes. We may not be able to prevent it, but we can show the very best of what means to be human by standing side by side, upright, ultimately invincible in the great collective spirit of Go To Hell.
Vive la France.
Nous sommes francais.
Liberte, égalité, fraternité.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans - I Salute You

I am a total coward. A total, total coward. 

And, sorry, folks, I would shop you all if somebody threatened to cut my hair, let alone my throat. There. Now you know.    
So, on Veterans Day, I want to say thank you to the men and women who are braver than I could ever be; who, every day, put their lives on the line to make the world a safer place for the rest of us; who are not only trained to be brave, but had the guts to sign up to protect us in the first place. Thank you, thank you, for your service.
If I had to pick on one thing that has changed me since moving to the US, it is my stance on war. I had a brief stint being pro-capital punishment, too, but I’m still against it, for reasons I won’t go into now; but it is a very complex issue that requires serious discussion and debate - rightly so.
Anyway, back to war. Always a pacifist, who thought that everything could be solved over a cup of tea and a chat, I’ve gone a bit “Nuke the bastards”. Well, not quite. But reality, alas, is very different from our vision of how we would like the world to be, and we need people  - more than ever - to stand up to the lunatics that this bizarre world continues to produce.
Yesterday celebrated the 240th anniversary of the founding of the US Marines, and anyone who has been following my social networking pages will see that I have been making my acquaintance with the young men and women who have been in town. And I mean acquaintance in the loosest sense of the word; I’m old enough to be their grandmother, for goodness’ sake. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to talk with many of them, and I am in awe of their intelligence, insight, loyalty and commitment to their country. 

As Mark Twain said: “Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
Okay, I looked that last bit up. Somebody threatened to cut my hair if I didn’t say it. You see? Cowardice.
But seriously. I have been fascinated this week to talk with young people in the US who say they would be proud to die for their country. While most have admitted that there is a large element of brainwashing that accompanies their training, they know that without it, they would not be able to do their jobs. 

I’m not about to enlist, by the way. I looked that up, too. At 57, I am way over the 29 year old threshold for the Marines, and I’d be signing up only to meet the boys, anyway; well, and to get the rather nice hat (loyalty to fashion, always. Fire a gunshot in my direction and I’d be “It was him, over there.” And I’d hand over my compass, just to be sure they got it right).
It’s been something of a war-filled week, for obvious reasons. I attended an event where the main topic of conversation was the part the Vichy government in Paris played during the Second World War while joining hands with the Nazis to shop the Jews. It’s a fascinating period of French history and possibly the darkest blot on that country’s landscape, and it still ignites incredible passion.
I lived in Paris for seven years and there is still an element of Basil Fawlty’s “Don’t mention the war” about the place (if you haven’t seen The Germans, the sixth episode of the great Fawlty Towers, I urge you to do so).
At the event I attended, there were so many hands in the air competing to speak, I thought I was at a Nuremberg rally. Alas, they never got the chance because the first person up to the microphone had a speech impediment. Now, I don’t wish to poke fun at anyone with any kind of disability, but if your particular stutter is your problem with the letter F, I think it’s inadvisable to speak publicly when the subject is France (I’ve just remembered, I once had a stalker with a stammer. I recall getting home and rewinding my filled up answer-machine and thinking “Brilliant, 300 people have phoned me." But it was only ever him).
The week of war has made me think a lot about my dad, who was in the Air Force. He wanted to make a career out of flying, but his health wasn’t good enough (a side benefit was that he was great at ironing, and did the lot his entire life in our house). I tried, briefly, to follow in his footsteps and joined a kind of Air Corps for kids. I gave up after week one in which we learned how to sew bars of soap into sponges. I thought I’d be up there bombing Germany, to be honest. 
As in all aspects of life, there are good and bad, and possibly nowhere more so than in the areas of armed service and law enforcement. But this is a day to remember the good guys and gals who make the world a safer place. I might not be American by birth, but I am proud of a country that produces so many fine young people who step up to the mark.
But please don’t forget. I really will shop you. 

I probably already have.